Chapter Fifteen

“Exited completely,” said Martina when I asked.  “We haven’t used a single dollar in five years.”

I had been visiting Horatio in the old hippie community in Poland, which decades before had already done the things that the Lawn Chairs were just now attempting to do. I was on a fact-finding mission for our outreach effort to get more Amenians to start a local currency. “Your currency; it’s called a current, right?” I followed up.

“We’re that clever.”

“How do you pay your taxes?”

“Religious exemption,” she said.  “And none of us owe income tax. Make too little.” 

“Have Internet?”

“Pirated,” said Horatio and leaned toward a window pointed to a cable coming from the main road, draped over tree limbs.

“Fuel?”

“Biodiesel for the tractors and pickups. Methane digesters to make natural gas.”

“What do you do about broken bones?”

“We have three resident doctors.”

“Two ivy league exiles,” added Horatio.

“Cancer?”

“Hasn’t cropped up yet,” said Martina.

“Not even in the geezers?”

“We all fast every Easter and Ramadan. Maybe that helps,” answered Horatio.

“That’s hyper-ecumenical of you. Infectious diseases?”

“Mostly old-fashion treatments—plant-sourced—microbes, a few from our black market pharma product stash. We do antibiotics when necessary,” said Martina.

“Most common cause of death?”

“Hit and run, kicked by a horse, fall from a rooftop, drowning, hunting accidents.”

“All nice and quick?”

“Pretty much,” she paused, remembering with some enthusiasm, “lightning strike.”

“Sounds like a great life.”

“We like it.”

“Seems you’ve been successful.”

Poland’s third-worldish adobe houses that I remembered from 2008 had morphed into up-to-code mansions. Only a few of the outbuildings still had that recycled-materials style.

“How did you get your alternative currency started?” I asked.

“How could we not?” Martina replied. “Everyone was broke, but had loads of produce to sell.”

“And bartering is clumsy,” I acknowledged.

“You don’t need gold, you know,” she said. “Currency is like an IOU.”  She explained that currency operates quite literally on, not a free-lunch principle, but, a stone soup principle. People just have to believe in the value.

Some thirty years before, they decided to give out IOUs to pay some of their members to construct a public farmer’s market stalls with a good roof, for everyone to use to sell their goods. The carpenters were able to exchange these IOUs with other community members for goods and services. This money started to cycle through the whole village quickly. “Corporations don’t create jobs, needs and currency do,” said Martina. 

“Sure,” I said.

She continued to explain how the the IOUs greasing the wheels some people had barns constructed and fields fenced and became more productive farmers. Soon everybody had more produce to bring to market. More people moved into the village, a butcher, a mechanic, and an electronics repair guy.

“Ideally villages should benefit off each others’ by-products, excess, or waste,” Martina grasped me firmly by the arm and further explained, “Any other situation is exploitation.”

Next the residents of Poland voted to create more fiat currency to build a meeting house (to put on performances, to hear lectures, to watch movies and documentaries). From the admission fees they earned enough to buy the materials to make a methane digester (to manage farm animal and human waste). The methane gas was sold to the residents for their outdoor grills. At that point the village didn’t need to create any new currency.

“So you’re saying,” I stopped her narrative, “that a government doesn’t need to borrow or tax to have money to spend. Creating money out of thin air and turning it into public infrastructure instantly creates wealth for everyone and backs the currency with material assets.”

“You got it. Any government could charge small fees for use of the infrastructure, like supply lines and communication lines, education and health centers. But not run them,” she added. “The people using them should be in charge. They should have freedom to help create and maintain their own institutional constraints.”

“It might be a hard sell for my Amenian friends who think we need to back money with gold,” I said. 

“Hm,” she mused. “Contented victims of the system. How do you get the gold in the first place? Go to war? Rob people?”

“Tax them.”

“Exactly. And then what, all that investment just sits in a vault unused.”

“What do you recommend I do first to get my other neighbors onboard with exit and build?”

“You won’t have to convince them to exit.”

“The system’s coming down?”

“Supply chain disruption. Livestock culling. Food processing plants torched. Hyperinflation and lays-offs.”

“Right. Half the battle will be won for us as they collapse the old system that they themselves built.”

“Hang on,” said Martina hearing a bell ring. “Customer in the farm shop.”

Horatio had to get back to work at the community center with his homeschool group. I followed Martina from her office into the shop where the alternative community interfaced with the world, offering their locally famous cheese, raw milk, fermented veggies and illegal meat (butchered on-site and explicitly labeled not for retail sale), among other fresh produce.

A stainless steel convertible EV, Quixote’s latest product line, was parked right outside the front door. The car’s owner had picked up a hand basket and was already filling it with jams and pickles.

The driver’s skin was verily saddle-leather tan and he had short sun-lightened hair that had come to match his complexion. Going hard for a relaxed elegance look, he wore his pants rolled, dove gray pinstripes, and he adorned a crisp white t-shirt with pastel paisley silk vest. He stepped lightly in leather glove shoes of the same tan color. The overall effect of his monochromatism suggested a giant vizsla in whimsical human dress. I watched him with interest, thinking he was familiar somehow, and it only slowly came to me that it was, as quicker minds have already guessed, Felix O’Brien. When he turned his back to me I snapped a picture of him looking at a frozen meat package with “Not for Sale” printed on the label next to a handwritten price tag.  I PM’d the picture with the message, “Are you following me?”

I heard the notification!  Absentmindedly, Felix withdrew his phone, while still looking at the meat packages.  He glanced at the screen for a moment and then returned his phone to his pocket and kept shopping. I waited. 

He brought his purchases to the counter. He paid in currents. Finally, he turned to me, with a donkey smile that fully revealed both upper and lower rows of teeth, and held out his hand. “Solzhenitsyn,” he said. “What are the chances? Quite a ways from the Public Library.”

“This is home. I’d heard you bought property.”

“Did you?”

“Why here?”

“Same reason you ended up here, right?”

“Running from painful memories?”

Felix adjusted his package of groceries.

“Hey,” I said. “I’m taking a chance, because I don’t know which side you’re on.” I turned to Martina. “This is Felix O’Brien.”

Martina nodded. She already knew.

“I suspect you may be one of the worst, but even if you are…”  Felix was blinking rapidly as I spoke, but otherwise his face was expressionless. I went on, “I want to take the whole Harlem Valley off the grid, so to say, like this community here. They even don’t pay taxes.”

Martina shrugged and held out empty hands.

This made Felix nod his head twice, showing he was listening.

“My neighbors and I—”

“I know all about it.”  He shifted his groceries again and pulled out his wallet and removed a ten dollar bill and showed it to me.

It was defaced in Booz’s hand: For use only within the Town of Amenia. Do not deposit in any bank.

“It’s not going to work, you know,” he said.

“That’s just a temporary measure. We’d switch to currents if there were enough.”  

“When your neighbors are offered twice the amount in CBDCs for their services they’ll bite.”

I failed to recognize the code he spoke in.

Felix offered some help, “Tempus breve est. The Global Economic Club is going to flip the switch replacing the dollar with a Centralized Bank Digital Currency.  It’ll be programmed so you can only spend so much on rent, so much on food, so much on gas, and so much on sex, etcetera. There will be fees withdrawn and your taxes automatically deducted. Essentially, your access to your money could be denied at, really, any moment—if you do not comply with certain requirements.”

“You think they’ll call in all paper currency, like FDR came for the gold?”

Felix chewed on his lip. “You’re all felons in one way or another already. Get used to it. But that will just make paper money more valuable in the black market.”

“More marked cash than usual this week,” I said. “You?”

“Paying my contractor cash.  Buying goodwill. Next e-currents.” He nodded at Martina, who remained unreadable. “A million dollars worth of alternative currency in circulation might be enough if the velocity is high.”

I stared at his jargon.

“High turnover,” he explained. “As soon as you are paid, you spend it. You don’t need as much currency if it circulates fast.” 

“Poland is almost a closed loop,” said Martina.

“It’s a start. You need small-scale wind systems and coffee.” He looked at his bundles. “I’ve got to put these things in my car. Do you mind?”

Martina and I said goodbye. As Felix and I exited, his car trunk was already opening to receive his purchases. 

“Everyone has a pet theory about me,” he said in a by-the-way tone. “Everyone knows my motives and can explain the deepest inner workings of my mind.”

“I’m agnostic.”

“You know what gets me the most?” He didn’t wait for me to guess. “They say I’m too cold, too analytical. The simple fact is, I respect real science. And now you understand why I followed you back.”

I noted his flattery.

Felix continued, “Ideology is really nothing but a sort of new religion, because it will not stand scrutiny. Scientific mechanism is no better than a vengeful God. So far it has brought us mass arial slaughter, nuclear bombs, and novel bioweapons.”

“You sound like me,” I replied.

“I sound like anybody with a modicum of commonsense.” He paused. “That was C. S. Lewis any way.”

“Thought I recognized it.”

He made a down-turned smile, which reminded me of the face of Big Pharma.

“I wouldn’t have figured you for a Lewis fan.”

“No?”

“No.”

“Science fiction, though. You get that I’ve read lots of science fiction?” he said eagerly.

There was loud rapid, knock, knock, knock. We turned, startled. As the knocking continued for five more beats, we realized it was a wood pecker. 

“A knock has that human sound,” I whispered, still startled.

A cartoonish red-headed bird swooped over our heads and started banging on the cedar shakes of the farm store. His lavish appearance would seem to be more fitting in a topical paradise.

“I’d offer the security of my car. We could go for a drive and keep talking about your project,” he paused.

“At this point—“

“At this point you know you’re already on the list, and it doesn’t matter if ‘they,’ whoever or whatever they are, know more.”

I recognized my own words in my journal. “I don’t trust you.”

“Never trust anyone.”

“That’s the sort of thing—“

“—that a confidence man says.”  While I tried to decide what to say, Felix went on, “The current is a start, but if it gets popular, the counterfeiters come in.”

“You’re the FinTech guy.”

“Electronic ledger and a meshnet. Regular credit/debit ledger, just encrypted. Only you know who buys from you and who sells to you.”

“How do we know someone isn’t corrupting the main ledger?”

“Make it open source.”     

I didn’t understand how that solved the problem, but I let it go for now. “We should talk to Martina. Makes sense to make an electronic version of their currency.”

“Did you think I was here just for jams and pickles?”

“Why the Harlem Valley?”

“It’s interesting to me to see how difficult it would be to create an alternative economy from nothing. An intellectual interest.”

“An experiment.”

“Those world-building games got me when I was a kid.  Now I’m obsessed with real-world-building, on the moon, here. And the moment is now. After over a year of suffering physical and mental torture—everyone hunkered down, divided, defamed, censored, and degraded by a money-crazed, power-mad cabal of Technocrats and Biofascists, the moment is ripening. Now is the time to break the spell of mass propaganda and fear. Now is the time to declare our sovereign independence and interdependence.” He paused.  “Now is the time to build a parallel commonwealth in our local communities of organic food, natural health, grassroots education, sophisticated culture, small-scale industry, and regenerative commerce.”

As Felix spoke, his vivid white Cheshire Cat smile infected me with cheer.

He went on, “A critical mass of the body politic is fed-up and disgusted,” he made an arc with his arm through the sky, “ready to start turning away from deranged politicians and corrupt parties, know-nothing medical authoritarians, disaster profiteers. A new populism is ready to unite the people, regenerate our health and our spirits, and build a new nation on the rubble of the so-called United States.”

He was campaigning.  His words felt like a speech that he’d rehearsed and presented numerous times. “Would you be king?” I asked.

“You’re naive if you think you don’t need someone with power to really pull this off.”

“But you would relinquish your power once your work was done?”

“I’ll keep my nice houses, cars and my businesses. I like stuff.”

“And so do I. I don’t want to lose my home.”

“I’ll take the moon.”

I shrugged. Seemed like a bargain if he would hold to it.

“I may seem to be a darling of the GEC now,” said Felix, “but that could change in a minute. I’m not stupid. I know I am a useful front man at the moment. I’m only playing the part of a Libertarian rebel. But, in fact, I depend on them. It’s not a comfortable position to be in.  I want to really be independent.”

“The barbarians are at the gate, and you have made a calculation, picked the side you think will prevail.”

“Let me be honest. I picked the side that has suffered. I can only relate to people who have suffered,” said Felix.

Did he really think he had suffered, I wondered, like ordinary people suffer? “You don’t know anything about me.”

Felix pursed his lips. Of course he knew.

“Let me put that another way,” I said. “Why would you bother to find out anything about me?”

“Because I can? You were using an Octopus phone. I own Telegraf now, you know, and—”

“You know about my mom?”

“Remdesivir, yeah. And your dad, nanothermite.” Felix held my gaze. 

“You are always one step ahead of me in this conservation,” I said. “It’s like there’s a time warp and you’re slightly shifted into the future.”

“Yes,” said Felix. “So it seems.” 

It occurred to me that I had been writing my diary with Felix O’Brien in mind. Although I never intended to send it, it was nevertheless addressed to someone who, I thought, could help me, and the letter took its color from that fact. Stupid as it was of me to petition power to help overthrow power, there was something irresistible about Felix, the way he played the maverick, made commonsense pronouncements that stood out against the background lunacy.

“They pretend that truth is in authority and consensus,” said Felix as he was getting into his car, “Even when bodies start dropping they will expect you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It is their final, most essential command.”

My heart sank as I thought of the enormous power arrayed against us.

Felix went on, “They are wrong and we are right.” He was sitting behind the wheel with the car door wide open and one foot on the ground. “The obvious has got to be defended. Hold on to that. The solid world exists; its laws do not change. Stones are hard, water is wet, and buildings unsupported fall towards the earth’s centre.”

“Some of the lockdown orders made no sense whatsoever,” I put in, “for instance, no going to the beach, or people wearing masks outside? or two masks.” As soon as I said it, I felt stupid adding such an obvious observation.

Felix put down his window and closed the car door. Looking at his steering wheel, he said very mechanically, as if he was remembering something under hypnosis. “It was a kind of hazing ritual. They wanted to see how much humiliation people are willing to take in order to be accepted by the group and cement their allegiance. The more absurd the better. Shows you mean it. The demands will get worse until finally the faithful will robotically repeat utter hooey.   

“In the end, the GEC will announce that two and two made five. And you will have to believe it. It is inevitable. The logic of their position demands it. The very existence of external reality is tacitly denied by their ideology. The heresy of heresies is common sense. That garbage on the galley wall is art. Powerful men do not commit conspiracies. The vaccine has been rigorously safety tested for long term effects in just two months. Men can get pregnant. And what is most terrifying is not what they will do to you if you think otherwise,” he looked at me, “but the doubt that they seed in your mind. For, after all, how do we know that two and two make four? Or what the force of gravity really is? Or that biological reality can’t be altered by the mind? If your knowledge of the external world is mere social construction, and if the mind itself is controllable, what then?”

There was a long moment of silence.

“I read it,” I said, after a while.

“Koenig’s book?”

“Yes.”

“When you understand the true nature of our society, you can guess the strategy by which we can destroy it.”

As I watched Felix pull onto Route 22, heading northward, I called Julia. “Guess who I ran into in Poland.”

“Felix O’Brien. You told him everything and tried to enlist him.”

“That doesn’t strike you as an impossibly rash thing to do?”

“No, you followed your instinct. What else do we have to go on?” Julia paused. She had something to tell me. “I just got out of an HR meeting. I’ve been charged with overseeing Diversity and Inclusion at the library.”

“Pay raise?”

“A big one.”

“Courtesy of Koenig?”

“Without a doubt.” 

I retold a short version of me tale of meeting Felix for Julia, explaining to her that he was setting himself up as a behind-the-scenes driver of our little local rebellion, that he was already involved with Martina and Poland’s alternative currency. I mentioned that there was something suggestive about his physical appearance, as if he had stepped right out of Aesop Fables, but I couldn’t quite read the moral to the story. When I was done with my report, Julia was anxious to re-enact her HR meeting for my amusement.

“Donna announced my new administrative title,” she said, “and instead of rolling my eyes and saying no fucking thanks, like my heart wanted to do, I stood up and launched into a perfectly idiotic acceptance speech, laying out my vision about the future of HR. I revealed the shocking fact that we are overlooking sexual diversity among heterosexuals. I noted that although minorities, women, gays, lesbians and transexuals are happily over-represented at the library, many other sexual identities go unvoiced. Then I paused for a good two seconds to give the impression that I had said something profound. Finally, Leo said he was shocked that he hadn’t thought of that before.”

“Leo, of course he did.”

“I said we were overlooking many sexual preferences and we needed to make sure these identities are represented in our employees throughout the entire library system. Are rear entries truly represented fairly? tops equally with bottoms? voyeurs? masterbaters? Or sixty-niners?”

“You didn’t.”

“I absolutely did.  And they took it like it was normal. I said, Maybe we can expand the employment application, Donna? Donna noted it. Leo said, Maybe there is a form of address that we can use to acknowledge these preferences? I said, Great idea, Leo.  As the New York Public Library we’re in a position to initiate such a change that will quickly spill over into the academic institutions we work with. They applauded me.”

“They are not of sound minds.”

“I’m going to take the money and push this absurdity to its logical conclusion, the total collapse of all institutions of learning—so that we can start over.”

“Right. That’s my girl.”

During our conversation I had gotten into my car, Gertrude’s Sprig, and I was already five miles north on Route 22 heading Ameniaward. As I hung up the phone, I looked out onto the horizon. In front of me the east and west ridges that framed the Harlem Valley seemed to converge into multi-layered dark humped-back clouds. I noticed for the first time that on the western ridge (later Booz would let me know that they’d been there for over a year), several massive pale blue windmills, nearly invisible against the same-colored sky. These Colossi were violently out of proportion with the surrounding landscape of even grand old oaks and ship-mast spruce. I turned a hard right and followed a new dirt road up the hill. Spinning off up a plume of dust, I tacked up the hairpin turns until I got to a chainlink fence that surrounded the base of one of the giant Quixotes. When I got out of my car, the sound of the whirring blades made the air electric. I felt vertigo as a titled my head back to see the turbine churning the stratospheric air. Antlike, I wondered at this marvel, this exemplar of the Kantian sublime, that Felix O’Brien had brought to the valley.


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